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Contemporary-Styled Low-Rise, Mixed-Use Residential/Retail Building Proposed for Venerable Adams Morgan Exxon Station Site

By Anthony L. Harvey

Accompanying images can be viewed in the current issue PDF

Adams Morgan’s Lanier Heights and Reed-Cooke neighborhoods are currently experiencing an avalanche of new and precedent-setting commercial and residential development projects — from the new, so-called historic hotel being planned for the old City Paper site, a project that incorporates the First Church of Christ, Scientist, to the large mixed-use apartment buildings being proposed for the old Ontario Theatre site at 17th Street and Columbia Road and as a replacement structure for the old Verizon parking garage, now operated by Colonial for public parking, at 1711 Florida Avenue.

[Editor’s Note: For background on the hotel project, see “Adams Morgan Hotel Zoning Hearings Continue; Traffic Impact Revealed as Major Problem,” The InTowner, Oct. 2012 issue PDF page 1 or http://tinyurl.com/akm4tzw). And for background on the 1711 Florida Avenue project, see “1711 Florida Avenue Development Plan Continues to Dominate Meetings With Reed-Cooke and Strivers Row Neighbors,” The InTowner Aug. 2011 issue PDF page 1 or http://preview.tinyurl.com/a6fowzu.]

The latest proposed development is a much smaller project, designed to replace the Exxon station at the corner of Adams Mill Road and Lanier Place, NW and its auxiliary garage, plus the small towing service and impoundment lot behind the filling station. In its place will be a sparkling four-story glass and steel mixed-use structure to include 12 residential apartments on each of three floors a ground floor of neighborhood-serving retail establishments.

Last month, a team of two Holland and Knight attorneys, two developers, and two architects provided a first presentation of the project to the community, one conveying renderings of the proposed new building and detailed plans prepared for submission to a Board of Zoning Adjustment hearing as well as for use with the Adams Morgan Advisory Neighborhood Commission (ANC) and community civic associations. A standing room only crowd of activists, former ANC commissioners, and interested residents received this presentation at the ANC’s Planning, Zoning, and Transportation Committee’s February 19th monthly meeting held at the Kalorama Park Recreation Center.

The applicant’s attorneys, architects, and developers were bombarded with heated questions regarding the modernist style of the proposed building, activists asserting its incompatibility with the brick and stone, earth-color built environment of Lanier Heights; repeated assertions that an inadequate number of large apartments were being proposed; and that the number of residential and retail parking spaces in the planned development was woefully inadequate. Questions relating to projected further pressures on existing parking, traffic congestion, and the loss of an asserted neighborhood amenity — the Exxon station and its auxiliary garage and towing service — further enlivened the evening’s discussion.

In answering questions regarding proposed apartment sizes and number of parking spaces, the applicant stipulated that each floor of residential units would have two-to-three, two-bedroom apartments and an additional unit with one bedroom plus a den. As for residential parking spaces, 18 are being proposed, one for every two apartments as required by current zoning regulations, and six spaces for use as commercial parking instead of the 19 that zoning regulations would require. Parking would be on an underground level, and seven of the residential spaces would be past the above-ground building line; the applicant was quick to add that the building itself, with its lobby entrance on Lanier Place, would respect the building line.

A zoning variance is being requested by the applicant for the reduction in the number of commercial spaces and for the extension below ground of the seven residential spaces, arguing that the ground floor plans call for units of neighborhood-serving, walk-in style retail rather than that of big box stores (and no banks) and that the proposed project respects the above ground building line. (The prohibitive cost of a second level of underground parking would be an additional factor.)

Project plans include an inner courtyard; it would be provided for the units facing Adams Mill Road and Lanier Place, and two stair towers and an elevator would provide direct access to a roof deck for use by the residents of all 36 apartments. The applicant also expressed an agreement to work with the community in planning a maintenance program for the small, pocket park directly in front of the Exxon station which had been developed after many years of community effort.

Next steps for the project include a second presentation, with any revisions based on community objections and recommendations or such other questions and concerns that DC agency staff might have, to the Planning, Zoning, and Transportation Committee followed by a further presentation which would be made to the full Adams Morgan ANC.